Federal Judge Blocks Government’s Attempts to Deny Vulnerable Immigrant Children in California Access to Legal Protections

Court Ruling Blocks Federal Government’s Efforts to Deny Humanitarian Protection to Abandoned and Abused Children, Shields Them From Deportation

SAN JOSE, California, October 26, 2018—A federal district judge issued an order Wednesday blocking the Trump administration’s efforts to deny some abused, abandoned or neglected children in California access to a special form of immigration relief. The order came in response to a class action filed in August  by Public Counsel; Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP; and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR) on behalf of hundreds of immigrant children between the ages of 18 and 20 who California state courts had determined were eligible for humanitarian relief based on past parental abuse, abandonment or neglect.

“This ruling means hundreds of immigrant children across California are significantly more secure and can rest a bit easier tonight,” said Mary Tanagho Ross, an attorney with Public Counsel. “The Plaintiffs have overcome extremely challenging circumstances and found loving guardians and caretakers here in the U.S., but the government’s unlawful actions put them at risk of deportation. Fortunately, this ruling is a proclamation that even the federal government has to follow the law and adhere to legal protections for vulnerable immigrant children.”

Plaintiffs alleged that in early 2018, the federal government began to unlawfully deny class members’ petitions for relief by refusing to recognize the authority of some California juvenile courts, a change that was implemented without any notice or any public announcement. The court’s ruling prevents the government from issuing new denials and also prevents the government from deporting immigrant children who have already been denied such relief.

Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California found that the government’s justifications in support of its policy change were “lacking” and some of its reasoning was “flawed,” that the plaintiffs raised “serious questions going to the merits” of the government’s case, and that the immigrant children subject to the preliminary injunction face irreparable harm without the injunction.  

“This is a just and proper order that recognizes the government’s actions violate federal law,” said Sirena Castillo, a partner at Manatt. “The Manatt team is proud to be working in conjunction with our pro bono partners Public Counsel and LCCR to ensure that the immigrant children in our class have access to the humanitarian relief that they are entitled to under the law.”  

The litigation challenges the federal government’s efforts to narrow the ability of some states to facilitate an immigration protection called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), which allows certain children who have suffered parental abuse, abandonment, or neglect to apply for lawful permanent residency. Under the federal statute, a child must receive Special Immigrant Juvenile Findings from a state court before he or she is allowed to seek SIJS relief from the federal government. California and a handful of other states have taken steps to allow immigrant children between the ages of 18 and 20 to seek such findings, in accordance with federal law. The plaintiffs argued and the judge agreed that the Trump administration’s policy of denying the SIJS petitions of otherwise eligible children was contravention of the federal statutes and regulations implementing SIJS.

“This case challenges the Trump’s administration’s unlawful denial of protections to immigrant children that they were entitled to under existing federal laws and regulations,” said Bree Bernwanger, senior immigration justice attorney with LCCR. “We are heartened that the court has agreed with us and helped us protect these abused and abandoned children from being separated from loving caretakers and stable homes.”


Public Counsel is a nonprofit law firm and the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services. It serves communities locally and nationwide by advancing civil rights litigation, advocating for policy change and providing free legal services to thousands of clients annually.

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP is one of the nation’s leading law and consulting firms, with offices strategically located in California (Los Angeles, Orange County, Palo Alto, San Francisco and Sacramento), New York (New York City and Albany), Chicago and Washington, D.C. The firm represents a sophisticated client base—including Fortune 500, middle-market and emerging companies—across a range of practice areas and industry sectors. For more information, visit www.manatt.com.

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area has worked since 1968 to advance, protect and promote the legal rights of communities of color, and low-income persons, immigrants, and refugees. Assisted by hundreds of pro bono attorneys, LCCR provides free legal assistance and representation to individuals on civil legal matters through direct services, impact litigation and policy advocacy. For more information, visit www.lccr.com.  



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